Adam Nightingale, chief commercial officer at 3SS, explains why savvy operators put a lot of thought in when it comes to selecting a technology ecosystem.

Adam nightingale 3ss

Adam Nightingale

It feels like ‘ecosystems’ are the talk of the town these days. Industries of all kinds are embracing the notion of the tech ecosystem, an ‘extended family’ of complementary technologies and their vendors, as a way to reduce risk, increase modularity, eliminate waste and launch new products faster in what promises to be a collaborative and future-ready environment. 

The TV industry – ever fragmented, ever competitive – is no exception. The myriad solutions and providers out there can be overwhelming to a would-be service provider. To have complete understanding of which technologies will work well together and which might struggle to play nicely with one another is practically impossible. Choosing an unconnected assortment of software and hardware companies may come with risks and unforeseen consequences if those selected have limited shared experiences of successful collaboration. Instinctively, to decide on an established ecosystem feels much safer.

Everyone knows the risks are high and that consumers are, generally, pretty unforgiving. Once, as viewers, we’ve been disappointed by a TV service or experience, there’s little or no chance that the trust will ever be the same as before. In an era of easy cord-cutting, one-click unsubscribing and vitriolic tweeting, keeping your customers engaged and delighted in is more important than ever. 

It serves us technology vendors well to remember that it’s the operator who has the most to lose if things go wrong. It’s subscribers, the operators’ customers, who determine whether a product is a success, a failure or mediocre copycat. 

Not all technology ecosystems are equal
While ecosystems may appear on the surface to look pretty much alike, namely a colourful display of logos on a website’s ‘Partners’ page, it’s worth digging deeper to understand that these ‘extended families’, like any family, can be very different in terms of how they operate, their culture and their values. And, as we can all attest, some families are more tightly-knit than others. 

What makes a technology ecosystem great? How can the hopeful operator be sure that the day-to-day goings-on in an ecosystem will live up to those marketing promises? Will the lofty words, the collaboration, the shared vision of success provide the operator with what it takes to be successful in this most competitive of markets? Just as importantly, does the ecosystem help the operator achieve its own commercial and roadmap ambitions and support any other exigencies particular to the operator’s organisation, while keeping viewer satisfaction front-and-centre?  

And what’s so great about ecosystems in the first place? What makes them any more than the sum of their parts?

I echo the sentiments of Dave Ulrich and Arthur Yeung, in their book Reinventing the Organization: “The organisation doesn’t achieve results through efficiencies, alignment, or capabilities. It succeeds because its participation in a broader network of teams and partners, internal and external, allows faster response to changing conditions.”

”At the heart of every successful organisational ecosystem is a shared purpose.”

Organisational ecosystems are indeed ubiquitous, not just in nature. Such an ecosystem forms when commercial and/or non-commercial entities look beyond their traditional operational borders and they coalesce. Together they aim to create or participate in new, flexible, and adaptive networks. Critically, at the heart of every successful organisational ecosystem is a shared purpose – that vision in our TV space is of how, together through close collaboration, we can create world-class TV viewing experiences for consumers with high expectations.

Operator’s advantages with ecosystems
The best and the most highly-featured tech ecosystems have a few key characteristics and outcomes in common: proven technology helps service launches happen faster; new revenues flow earlier; and first-mover advantages are maximised. Crucially, the risks of vendor and technology lock-in are reduced.

Particularly in relation to today’s hybrid Android TV deployments, the increasingly popular path for operators with ambitions to becoming a super-aggregator, choosing the right ecosystem is crucial. It’s the difference between efficient, technologically successful projects and those which struggle with functionality, development speed, time to market and other factors that potentially hinder or ruin competitiveness.

The fact is, bringing together the traditional features of pay-TV along with live broadcast and other OTT content, including third-party services, is no simple task. To deliver the best experience for viewers, a first-class TV platform today needs to combine multiple content types, embracing live, linear and on-demand from numerous content sources, seamlessly and faultlessly supported by all key operations and business functionalities within a pay-TV network. These include DRM/CAS, player, CRM, billing, recommendations, metadata management and licensing management (the list goes on… and on, and on). Architecture diagrams look increasingly tangled these days and feature more and more logos. For any single vendor to claim to be the master of all is pure hubris. 

As a result, the operator inevitably needs to make many decisions about technologies on which to build their next-generation systems, and about which vendors to entrust with service design, launch and evolution. Making the right choices is the difference between business survival and failure. The complexity is dizzying, those NPS scores are make-or-break, and mistakes are expensive.

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Why choosing a proven ecosystem matters
By choosing a proven technology ecosystem with an array of options, the operator can be confident that the components and solutions chosen will work smoothly together. Alongside mitigated technology risk, an operator can benefit hugely if the ‘culture’ or philosophy of the ecosystem encourages co-creation, co-design, with at all times, innovation as lifeblood. 

Flexibility and co-creation, including co-development, thrive in great video entertainment tech ecosystems, in order to help operators provide impactful, personalised viewing experiences that engage and keep subscribers delighted. Operators can be assured they are using reliable, proven and deeply integrated solutions. 

The benefits don’t stop with speedy service launches. New discoveries and improvements continuously abound in ecosystems populated with the inventive and energetic. And everyone involved is part of a shared evolution journey. We strive to embody all these values in our own 3READY Entertainment Ecosystem.

The wisdom of choosing an ecosystem and not just individual vendors is based on the fact that we don’t know what the future holds; much as we try to make informed suppositions based on experience and past viewer insights, we can’t know for certain what subscribers will want in times to come. If an ecosystem is expansive, with many participants developing new things on their own tracks, as well as teamed up with other ecosystem members, there is a far greater likelihood that innovations will emerge that effectively meet the changing requirements of viewers in a timely and cost-effective way. 

Additionally, having a critical mass of real-world users who are benefitting from the ecosystem delivers a step-change in meaningfulness and utility for the whole community. The level of user acceptance of a particular configuration, or even just a feature, can be better evaluated and known if based on a sufficiently broad population. This makes the analytics reliable, confidence-giving and transferrable. 

Mutual trust above all
But the value and success of any ecosystem really comes down to trust. 

In an impactful ecosystem, with many successful deployments to show for it, the basis for trust is already established. When you have partners who work together over many years, and even operator-customers who are open and eager to share their ideas and best practices, then that trust is galvanised.

Incumbent operators in particular, with established system landscapes, who are looking to build their next-gen services need more than just a laundry list of tech vendors from which to choose. With the right collaborative environment, innovation is faster, integration costs are reduced, launches happen better and earlier. The culture is open and flexible. Choosing the right ecosystem means remaining adaptive to future needs and being able to constantly deliver value to subscribers.